Feature: Indian migrant workers rushing back home as capital under COVID-19 lockdown

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by Peerzada Arshad Hamid

NEW DELHI, April 20 (Xinhua) — As the Indian capital city started a six-day COVID-19 lockdown Tuesday, thousands of migrant workers have begun crowding bus terminals and railway stations to return home, raising memories of last year’s exodus during the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown.

The rush was witnessed Monday evening before the lockdown was imposed at 10:00 p.m. and has continued on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, thousands of migrant workers gathered at Anand Vihar Inter State Bus Terminal (ISBT) in Delhi to catch bus home.

The migration back home continued although Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had appealed to the migrants with folded hands not to leave while sounding a word of assurance that he was there for them.

“I would like to appeal to them (migrants), with folded hands, this is a short lockdown of six days. Please do not leave Delhi. You would lose a lot of time, money, and energy in travelling. Stay in Delhi,” Kejriwal said in an online briefing.

“I understand how people lose their jobs and wages during the lockdown. This is especially difficult for the poor people and daily wage workers,” he said.

On Tuesday Kejriwal urged people to extend their cooperation to avoid infection.

“Lockdown has started in Delhi from today. This decision has been taken in view of your health and safety. Please cooperate with the government in this, stay at your home, avoid infection,” he said.

According to officials, the lockdown which began from 10:00 p.m. local time on Monday will last until 5:00 a.m. next Monday.

“No sooner had the news spread that the government is imposing lockdown, than most of my fellow workers left back home,” Vivek Das, a migrant worker said. “I am staying back only because the government has stated that the lockdown is for a short duration and won’t prolong.”

Das said the lockdown would certainly affect the livelihood of migrant workers.

Officials said the migrant workers feared that the lockdown could be extended amid the daily spike of COVID-19 cases.

“The rush was because of the fear that if the lockdown prolongs people would get stuck and have to walk back home,” an official at ISBT said.

The crowd of migrant workers at bus terminals and railway stations was a grim reminder of last year’s mass exodus of migrant workers from big cities to their homes in rural India.

A nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 last year in India to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The move left thousands of migrant laborers stranded at their place of work.

Many were forced to walk home, others chose to take trucks, tempos and other vehicles, often paying every penny they had earned. However, not everyone succeeded in reaching home.

Nearly 200 migrant workers died in road accidents as they were walking, cycling or travelling in trucks and vans in intense heat, as well as in massive crashes involving state-organized buses.

Now India is witnessing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Federal health ministry Tuesday morning said 259,170 new COVID-19 cases were registered in the past 24 hours across the country. The country registered 1,761 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the biggest one-day spike.

Several states, including Delhi, have announced curfew and lockdowns in the wake of the rapid spread of infections.

Apart from the rapid spread of the disease, India is also struggling with an acute shortage in supplies of oxygen, availability of hospital beds and essential drugs. Some states have even flagged to the federal government about the shortage of COVID-19 vaccine stocks. Enditem

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